Thursday, January 31, 2013

Companion Planting in the Garden


I am a fairly new to gardening (this will be my 4th year) and in no way do I have a green thumb.  Most years, I am tickled pink that anything grows because I tend to neglect my gardens shortly after it starts producing.  If I don’t see results (quickly), I get distracted and give up on the endless pulling of weeds and fostering the tender plants.

It wasn’t until last year that I had ever heard of the term “companion planting,” so I was naturally curious.  With many Google searches and several books from the library, I was intrigued. 

Companion planting not only enhances the soil and works to keep those pesky bugs from eating leaves and produce, but you can grow a lot more in a smaller space!  I have also read that it is a good way to keep the weeds at bay (which has always been a struggle for me.)  I am looking forward to planting more in less space this year.  I think we will need to in order to grow allof the seeds I purchased this year!
From my research, I have found a couple of great websites that are helping me to plan my garden this year.  They include:

Companion Planting InteractiveExcel Spreadsheet
This interactive spreadsheet from  is awesome!  You can choose the vegetable you are planting and see what is bad, good, better and best to grow alongside your plant. 

Companion Planting with Herbs 
I am looking forward to incorporating more herbs into our garden this year for medicinal purposes as well as to dry and use for later use.  This link shows where to plant the herbs based on other vegetables or flowers. 

This link has an extensive list of all fruits, vegetables and herbs as well as their companion plants.

Free Garden Planning Printables
5 Dollar Dinners offers free garden-planning printables to help organize this year’s garden!  I am going to be using all four of the free printables on this site!  They include: The Garden Planner, The Square Foot Gardening Planner, The Container Gardening Planner and the Garden Harvest Planner. 

When to Plant
In years past, I planted everything by seed all within a 2-3 week timeframe.  Not only is this exhausting for me, some of my plants didnt do as well as others.  I learned that this is because some plants do better when planted in the ground several weeks before the last frost versus planting them after the last forst. (Duh! Can you say cold-weather plants?)

I came across a link that shows you exactly when to plant each vegetable in your garden based on the last frost in your zone! 

First, go to this website to see when the frost usually ends in your zone.
I am a Zone 5, so frost usually ends mid-April for me.

I entered May 16th into this spreadsheet and it shows me exactly when to plant each vegetable! This completely takes the guess-work out of when I need to be outside planting seeds.

My hope is that you find a few of these links as helpful as I have.  May this year be the best growing season for us all!

Have you ever used the companion planting method before?

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre


Monday, January 28, 2013

Learning to Live Without a Dryer and Dishwasher

As a part of trying to conserve energy, I decided to try to live without the clothes dryer as well as the dishwasher.  The first day I tried to live without these two appliances, I realized how easy they made my life.  They were truly a convenience I had come to rely on.  This is what I’ve learned over the past month by going without these two appliances.

Small Loads Are Best
The very first day I washed laundry, we had 3 large loads to do.  I put in the first large load into the washing machine to realize all of the clothes would not fit on our 3 drying racks.  So…I hung some up on the fireplace mantel and dried them extremely quick in front of the fire.

With the dishes, if I wash them as I go, it is not as overwhelming.  I have been washing the dishes after breakfast, which takes about 5 minutes.  I unload those dry dishes from breakfast while making dinner in the evening. When my husband cooks, he uses all  a lot of pots and pans, and the days he cooks, I am completely overwhelmed with a stack of dishes and want to throw up my hands in defeat by loading them into the dishwasher and hit the “start” button.

Frequency Rules
With laundry, I have learned to do several (smaller) loads throughout the week instead of 2 or 3 large ones on the weekends.  By doing this, we have enough room on the drying racks to allow the clothes to dry properly within 24-48 hours. 

As I mentioned above with the dishes, I wash the dishes after every single meal to ensure I don’t get overwhelmed.

It Ain’t Pretty
In the beginning, we kept the drying racks in the family room and they were not very pretty to look at
every time we walked into the room.  It then dawned on me that we could keep the drying racks in our spare bedroom to keep them away from cute little kitten claws (we have 3 – 5 month old kittens right now) and they are out of the way.  This has been working well for us.


Patience is Key
I have to laugh at this because I have no patience whatsoever.  It is so easy to hit a button and 34 minutes later you have dry clothes.  Hit the “start” button on the dishwasher and 2 hours later you have clean and dry dishes.

Now, it takes anywhere from 24-48 hours for our clothes to be completely dry (I am looking forward to the warmer weather when I can hang clothes outside on the line!).  I am learning to plan ahead instead of live in survival mode when it comes to dishes and laundry.  To me, it feels better to have laundry done and put away every few days instead of 3 heaping baskets of clean laundry waiting to be put away once a week.  It takes a little more time throughout the week, but it’s done and I don’t have to worry about it.

I joke that I would like to live the “simple life” like the Amish…without all the work.  I am learning that by getting rid of just two appliances, it creates a noticeable change in work load; however, I am (surprisingly) keeping up. 

I grew up with dishwashers and clothes dryers.  This is what I am accustomed to.  It is definitely a change in mindset to willingly go without, but I am enjoying it.  Right now, I am doing this to see if we can lower our electric bill and put the savings toward our mortgage payoff; however, I would love to be able to one-day create enough electricity to power our home.  Trying to reduce our energy consumption is one step closer to being independent of energy.

Do you live without a dryer or dishwasher?
What are your tips and tricks or advice for those of us just starting out in our journey of less “convenience” appliances?

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The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Day in the Life of...

This year, I decided to link up with Simply Rebekah for her annual Day in the Life of... series.  I love reading other people's days and thought maybe I could be a little more productive if I did one myself.  Ha!  I should have known better.  And to warn you, I didnt do things in hour increments. I did them as they happened, because I would pretty much have a blank post if I showed you what I did in 1 hour increments.  I tend to do alot within an hour or two and then peter out.

I had a hard time sleeping the night before which resulted in me sleeping on the couch until 3:30 in the morning and then realizing I must have slept wrong because my hip was KILLING ME!  To say I woke up on the wrong side of the bed is an understatement and I was a real grumpopotamus.  It felt like nothing went right.

So, without further explanation, here is my day on Saturday, January 19th...


At 9:27, I was getting ready to go out and about for the day.  When I went into the bedroom, I noticed our oldest cat, Tuxford (also sick - along with the 3 kittens) puked all over the bedspread.  You can thank me for not taking a picture of that for you.  I put the bedspread into the washing machine while I went out to do some grocery shopping.


This is where my grumpy day turns into a "can SOMETHING...ANYTHING go right for me today?" type of day.  As soon as I got home, I remembered I had to take some mozzarella cheese out of the freezer (we buy in bulk).  I then realized, we had no cheese left in the freezer.  At 11:20, I was back out the door with the pup to go get a bag of (expensive) shredded cheese from the local IGA.

At this point, I was completely ticked off, so I decided to take a break.  My mom called just as I had walked in the door for the second time, so I talked to her for a few minutes while I ate lunch of clam chowder.  I was giving up on the project, and I went to go sit down and watch a couple of movies in hopes I would feel better.

I hung the comforter out on the back porch because our retractable clothesline has gone missing!
*grumble* *grumble*

I got a message from Rebekah on Twitter asking about how my "Day in the Life of..." was going. 
I told her that I was going to give up, but then told her I would take a nap and see how I felt among waking.  I was in bed for almost 45 minutes and I just could not go to sleep.

My plans for dinner: Homemade pizza, boneless buffalo chicken and potatoe wedges.

For some reason, the dough wasnt rising like it was supposed to.  But I made it anyways.  And this is what happens when you scream when a kitten tries to jump on a hot oven door.

At this point, I was determined to finish dinner.  There was no calling the local pizza joint and paying $20 for dinner.  Nosiree.  I am going to finish this dinner, and it is going to be great!

At 7:20, hubby finally arrived home.
Shortly after eating dinner, hubby and I had an arguement.  After this photo was taken, I ate and then went to bed.  I left the clean clothes in the washing machine overnight and the dirty dishes in the sink as the animals and I went to bed.
After looking back on the day, it really is what my days on the weekend look like for the most part.  What is NOT normal is how grumpy I was and the fact that I couldnt shake it.  As the children's book reads, it was a "Horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day."  The thing is, even though it was a "bad day," I realize that it is so much better than many others have on a daily basis.  I really have nothing to complain about.  

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On February 1st!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Planning the 2013 Chicken Garden

The chickens have been eating us out of house and home.  Alright, I am exaggerating a bit, but they sure do eat a lot!  We have lazy chickens that would prefer me to throw them some cracked corn or rolled oats before they forage for bugs!  Once they figure out that I’m not going to feed them, they eventually meander around the yard foraging.

I learned about breeding mealworms late last year and have been quite successful at doing so.  My goal is to reduce the amount of commercial chicken feed we buy and to become as self-sufficient as possible when it comes to feeding the chickens.  The mealworms are just the beginning.  We plan on growing and preserving the following items to feed the chickens:

Alfalfa sprouts
Pumpkins (we bought a variety that grow to be up to 100 lbs!)
Rye grass
My hopes are to grow enough of the above items to feed as well as put some away for the fall, winter and early spring when the ground is frozen and bugs are hiding.  It would be awesome to spend $0 on chicken feed in 2013, though I am aiming to spend no more than $50 between the seeds to start the chicken garden and some chicken feed to hold the chickens over until the garden gets started.

Do you grow your own chicken food?
What do you feed them?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Saving Money: Utilities

We are two weeks into the New Year and as part of Operation Mortgage Payoff, I am attempting to cut our expenses as much as possible.  One way of doing this is to cut back on our utilities. 

I will be the first to admit that our home is an energy “hog” and I hate that we use so much electricity.  The house is mainly run from electricity with the exception of our heat which is propane.

I thought that by purchasing a smaller water heater earlier in 2012 to replace an old 80 gallon inefficient tank (the previous owners of the house had a hair salon on one side of the house) to a 40 gallon efficient tank, that we would see a noticeable decrease in our electric bill.  Unfortunately, this was not the case.

I have been racking my brain to think of ways to cut down on our energy use and this is what I’ve come up with.

Back in July, we purchased an energy-efficient washer and dryer.  I enjoyed being able to wash an entire load of laundry from start to finish in less than an hour and a half since owning this new set.  This changed January 1st.

According to the Energy Star efficiency rating, our washing machine uses $16 worth of electricity per year based on 8 loads of laundry a week.  On average, we wash 4 loads of laundry each week.  I am not going to invest alot of time trying to minimize this use of energy.

What I am focusing on is lowering the amount we use our dryer.  Our dryer, though it is new, is not considered “energy efficient.”  There is nothing listed on the machine to show how much energy it uses each and every time we dry our clothes.  That being said, I have been hanging my clothes to dry on a quilt rack and wood drying racks exclusively in 2013.

My husband washes his own work clothes at least once a week.  I have attempted to take over this job of his, and so far, have been pretty successfully.  He prefers his clothes to be dried in the dryer; however, I dry them using the racks and then “fluff” them for 5-10 minutes in the dryer.  The “fluff’ mode does not use heat, so it is a win-win for us.  I would be extremely happy if the dryer gets used only once each week.

It takes a lot of energy to heat up and maintain a constant temperature in a conventional oven.  When I cook something that requires the oven, I am going to attempt to make more than one meal at a time in the oven.  I am using the crock pot more this year in place of using the oven as well as cooking in cast iron skillets on our wood burning stove.

In the past, we ran the dishwasher 3-4 times a week.  No matter what setting I wash our dishes on (light wash or heavy wash), it takes about 2 hours from start to finish.  I have been washing the dishes by hand and let them dry in the dishwasher overnight.  Previously when we used the dishwasher, I had to pre-rinse anyway, so this isn’t so bad.  I am hoping that by running the dishwasher no more than once a week, we can see a visible change in our electric bill.

The electric company offers a “budget” each year where we have the option to pay one set amount each and every month throughout the year.  We do not take advantage of this offer.  Instead, we pay our bill based on our usage each month.  I feel this helps to keep us on track when it comes to lowering our consumption.  That being said, the only way to determine if we are actually lowering our use of electricity is to compare this year’s usage to our usage in 2012.  In 2012, we used 13,297 kilowatt hours of electricity. (WOW!) I would like to lower our use of electricity by 15% this year, decreasing our use to 11,302 kilowatt hours or less electricity. 

Our home is heated by a propane furnace.  Currently, we keep the thermostat very low (55 degrees) and heat only the rooms we are using.  If we are going to bed, we start up the potbellied wood-burning stove.  If we are in the family room, we use the propane logs in the fireplace to warm up the room.

I am proud to say that we are still using the same propane that we purchased back in the spring of 2012 to heat our home!  We will need to have the tank filled any week now, but until then, we are definitely saving on our use of propane so far this winter.  On average, we have our tank filled 3 times a year.  My goal is to lower that to just twice this year.

What other ways could we save on the use of our utilities?
I would love to hear your suggestions.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Thinning the Flock

{{I originally wrote this post on Friday; however, did not get it posted on the blog on time. Since writing this, we have processed 3 more chickens, bringing our flock down to a total of 10 hens.}}

There are currently 13 full-sized chickens running around our fenced in back yard.  To be honest, this number really doesn’t phase me and quite frankly, I enjoy owning the chickens.  Then again, I could easily become an animal hoarder because I love all things fuzzy and adorable. The number of chickens we own bothers my husband and he has made that vocal over the past couple of months as the chicky babies have continued to grow.
Admittedly, it was a big leap to go from 3 compact laying hens to 19 chickens at one point. The chickens we have are of all different breeds and sizes, some of them twice as big as our cute little compact (1 ½ year old) red sex link hens.  In the beginning, the chicky babies didn’t require a lot of attention or food.  Now, at 4 ½ months old, they eat a lot, poop a lot, take up a lot of room and two of them (roosters) are crowing loudly as early as 5:00 in the morning.
All of these factors put together, I think it’s time to thin the flock.  When it gets to be a little warmer outside, we are planning to process 4 or 5 chickens.  It will be difficult to decide which ones stay and which ones will be processed. 
I look at Craigslist every few months and there are always listings for free roosters.  If we decide that we want to breed a couple of the chickens for meat in the future, it shouldn’t be too difficult to pull off.  Until then, we are looking forward to a few more hens to start becoming fertile and laying eggs over the next month before processing the rest of the flock.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Learning to Crochet

I find that the art of sewing, crocheting and knitting have become lost arts for the most part.  In a “microwave society” where people want results and they want them now (me included), it is easy to see how the art of working with ones hands has become nearly extinct.  Even my grandmother, the woman who was a Home Economics teacher all her professional career has succumb to the ready-made cookie dough and clothes off of the rack.

My grandmother was the woman who taught me how to crochet many many years ago.  I would do just fine while I was at her house, but when I went home, I couldn’t figure out how to do anything but the single chain…one way. J  So, in other words, I was able to crochet a large line of chains and that was it! 

It has been over 20 years since I last picked up a crochet hook until I saw this lovely post from Missy at Graceful Little Honey Bee. She had me inspired to try and learn how to crochet on my own.

For anyone interested in learning to crochet, there really isn’t much of a startup cost to begin (the cost of a hook and a ball of yarn is the minimum needed to start learning).  You can get a crochet hook for just a few dollars at Walmart, Hobby Lobby, JoAnn Fabrics or any craft store.  My husband bought me a kit that has a DVD to learn how to crochet, patterns, and all of the hooks needed. 

From there, I found this video that helped me to learn how to crochet a single chain (forward and back this time). 


I love this video because it is nice and slow, and the woman explains everything so well!  Do you see the number of views on this video?  Most of them were from me watching and re-watching the video dozens of times. 

After making a couple of pot holders based on the first video above, I crocheted infinity scarves for my nieces based on this YouTube tutorial.



I am determined to master the art of crocheting and I look forward to learning more patterns to create in the near future.  Until then, I will continue to work on my single crochet and work on this shrug  until it is complete.  You better believe I will post a picture when the shrug is complete.



After I have mastered crocheting, I would like to re-learn how to sew using the sewing machine that was handed down to me from my mother as well as learn how to knit.  Until then, you will find me relaxing on the couch, listening to a book while I crochet until my eyes start to cross.

It may not be “worth” the time for some, but it is a relaxing hobby that I enjoy and I love seeing the results after I put in all of the hard work.

Do you know how to sew, crochet or knit?
Do you have any advice or EASY projects to work on?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Operation Mortgage Payoff

Dave Ramsey often says, “Live like no one else so that later, you can live like no one else.”  This quote runs through my mind often when I want something.  This is also the quote that helps me to pass up those impulse purchases.

While I was driving home from work in the middle of December, I was thinking about our one last debt – the mortgage.  At the end of 2012, the balance of our mortgage was $50,408.57.  Todd and I talked about our goal to have the mortgage paid off in full by the end of 2016 and we were excited about being able to accomplish this.  When I reflected on the remaining balance of the mortgage, I thought about how feasible it would be for us to pay the mortgage off in two years.  I ran the numbers in my head and it was completely attainable to pay off the mortgage.  But there was a catch: Todd had to be 100% on board with the plan.

Surprisingly, Todd was game when I communicated my master plan.  This is how we are going to attempt to pay our mortgage off in the next 24 months.

Save 50% of our income
Back in October, I wrote about how we pay ourselves first before any of our monthly expenditures.  In 2012, we were paying ourselves 40% of our income to meet our financial goals.  In 2013, we will be increasing that amount to 50% in order to help achieve the goal of paying off half of our mortgage in 2013.

Put Off the Unnecessary
The only way we will be able to pay off our mortgage in two years is to put off major home repairs as well as put off purchasing a new vehicle.  We decided that we have enough odds ‘n ends work to do around the house to last us the next several decades years without taking on any additional projects, so that wasn’t an issue.  We also agreed that we would put off purchasing the new vehicle Todd has been dreaming of and we have been saving up for over the past 9 months.  By eliminating these two unnecessary expenditures from our budget will help us pay off 20% of our mortgage each year.

Cut Back
Not only are we cutting back on what we are saving for in 2013 and 2014, we will also be cutting back on our spending.  We are pretty frugal around here, so this is going to entail some creativity.

Our grocery budget is currently $250/month.  My goal is to lower this category of our spending by 25% in 2013 to $187.50/month.  With the help of our garden, I think this goal is achievable without a lot of struggle. 

We are definitely cutting back this year on our travel budget.  We enjoy taking a few trips each year to experience new places.  This year we will be cutting back to one or two trips and they will be close to home and very inexpensive. 

Sell Unwanted Items
I have wanted to go through everything in the house and purge the items we don’t use for years.  This is the year it will get done.  We have already listed and sold some of our possessions on Craigslist over the past few months, but we look forward to getting rid of a lot more. 

Start a Home-Based Business Part-Time
Todd and I have dreams of starting our own business and had plans to move the process along in 2013.  We are putting off the repairs to our home for the business this year but that doesn’t mean we can’t get our feet wet in the business.  We will attempt to grow our customer base (which wont be difficult to do seeing as we have yet to advertise our services and have zero customers) in 2013 so that hopefully we can pull the trigger and make our business a full-time position for one or both of us in upcoming years.  This will not only bring in some extra income but will give us some much-needed experience. 

I realize that we are in a great position to even have the option to do this.  If anything were to change in our lives such as starting a family, losing a job, becoming sick, or taking care of a sick parent, we wouldn’t be able to pay off our mortgage in the next two years.  But for now, while we are able, we are going for it.  We are reaching for the stars.  We are looking forward to living like no one else.

 Side Note: Steve Stewart from MoneyPlanSOS is also in the last few years of his mortgage.  You can listen to his numbers and how he got there on his Podcast Episode 88.

Are you/did you payoff your mortgage early?
I want to hear about what you are doing to make this dream a reality.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Planning the 2013 Main Garden

I love this time of year when nothing is going on because everything is frozen outside.  It gives me an excuse to stay inside and daydream about what our garden(s) will look like in 6 short months.

I am planning to grow 3 different types of gardens this year.  The main garden in which we would consume and preserve the contents, an herb garden for medicinal purposes and to stock up our herbs for the year, and a chicken garden in an attempt to completely get rid of the cost of chicken feed.

This year, I am going to try to stay away from the greenhouses in the spring because I am going to try to plant everything from seed.  I have high hopes of planting the seeds in the ground this spring because I have had no luck in the past starting the seeds indoors and transplanting them outside.


This is the list of fruits and vegetables we plan on growing this year in the garden:
(* denotes items we have never grown before)

  • Amish Paste Tomatoes*
  • Grape Tomatoes
  • Early Girl Tomatoes
  • Bush Beans
  • Yard-Long Green Beans (we loved these last year!)
  • Peas (2 varieties)
  • Cucumbers (2 varieties)
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Zukes
  • Summer Squash
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Onions
  • Leeks*
  • Carrots*
  • Sweet Potatoes*
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon *
  • Cantaloupe*
  • Ground Cherries*
  • Radish* (I bought seeds for $0.10 a packet at the end of last season)
  • Asparagus (we have some in the ground already, but I think the chickens may have destroyed them.  I have some seeds that will be planted and I will cover so the chickens cannot get to them!)
  • Rhubarb*
  • Cauliflower*
  • Broccoli*
  • Romaine Lettuce*
  • Mustard Spinach*
  • Spinach*
  • Vine Peach*  (An annual that fruits the first year!)   
  • Elderberries*
We have several fruit trees and bushes scattered around the yard including a dwarf plum tree, two pear trees, four concord grape vines, red raspberries, blueberries, and two cherry trees. 

Take a look at this diagram about how much land is (theoretically) needed to be self sufficient for a family of 4.  I thought it was pretty interesting, though I think we could do it on half the land (there are only 2 of us, we don’t eat many grains and don’t use dairy other than butter).

We get our seeds from Groco Seeds as well as from WalMart.  I have started my transition toward heirloom seeds this year in order to fulfill one of my aspirations of saving seeds. 

Have you started to plan your garden for this year?
I would love to hear what you are going to grow!


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